October 11, 2013

"What’s the best book about the law ever written?"

A question asked of Scott Turow, who answers: 
“A Theory of Justice,” by John Rawls. It’s not beach reading, but I don’t know of a more lucid articulation of the intuitions many of us share about what is just. Among works of fiction, Melville’s “Billy Budd” would be my first choice, especially in the present day, when the sexual undertones that once dared not speak their name are so apparent.
Because if you want to do some great law writing, you're going to want those sexual undertones. 

Also, I'm interested that Turow cites of "The Count of Monte Cristo" as the book that has had "the greatest impact" him, because that was my father's favorite book. Apparently, it's quite thrilling. I've never read it. I'm adding that to my Kindle. Why have I always resisted reading the one book my father encouraged me to read? How would my life had been different if I yielded to just that one suggestion (let alone all the other things my father would have encouraged)?

36 comments:

St. George said...

I thought the Bible was the best book about the law ever written.

First, you got 10 of 'em, and then a guy comes along and says the law was made for man, and man wasn't made for the law.

David-2 said...

So, Scott Turow knew your father?

David said...

Perhaps you don't want to be disappointed by Count of Monte Cristo?

You don't have to read it to have your father love you.

Which of course you must already know, since you haven't read it.

One of my father's favorite books was Lord Jim. He gave it to me when I was too young to appreciate it. I felt very guilty that I did not like it.

Later, when I read it again, I enjoyed it immensely. But my father was dead by then, so I could not make the amends.

So we beat on, etc.

Bob said...

Don't know the best book about the law (why "the law" instead of "law"?), but the best chapter about the law is certainly Chapter 89: Fast-fish and Loose-fish, since in the "laws touching Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish, I say, will on reflection be found the fundamentals of all human jurisprudence."

Ann Althouse said...

"So, Scott Turow knew your father?"

LOL.

I deleted the phrase "I'm interested that" without noticing the "because."

Fixed.

whswhs said...

The Count of Monte Cristo is an interesting book; if you look at what goes on in it, it has nearly all the crucial elements of the superhero formula, even the secret identity. The only thing missing is the spandex. I think it might arguably be the source of Batman and his ilk.

I'm not a fan of Rawls, not at all. I don't really find the social contract theory persuasive in the first place, I find Rawls's assumption that people will be bound to real cooperation in the real world by all engaging in an elaborate logical exercise involving a hypothetical contract much too rationalistic ("Oh, look, I can compel you to do what the state commands by this exercise in logic!"), and also the egalitarianism Rawls argues for is just repugnant. If I were going for a philosopher's book on law I'd reread Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals—not because I agree with all of it, either, but because it made me think, and because Nietzsche's argument was more archaeological and ethnographic than metaphysical. The book by a lawyer that taught me most was Epstein's Simple Rules for a Complex World, which takes account intelligently of public choice theory.

Helenhightops said...

My husband LOVES The Count of Monte Cristo. Alfred Bester reworked it in the 1950's in what many consider one of hard sci-fi's great classics: The Stars My Destination.

Austin said...

Call me old-fashioned, but I still think it is "Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England".

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I haven't read A Theory of Justice, but Allan Bloom's takedown of it was the most devastating negative book review I've ever read that wasn't written by Florence King.

Michael K said...

"The Count of Monte Cristo" is great but I thought the best fiction ever written about the law is "Anatomy of a Murder." It was written by a Michigan supreme court justice who also wrote a great non-fiction book about fishing. Of course, I'm not a lawyer but, sadly, I have two kids who are. Just kidding.

The movie was not as good.

Jim Gust said...

I listened to The Count of Monte Cristo on tape--as I recall it ran to about 36 hours. Really enjoyed it, but it is a very long and very intricate story. I chose it after seeing and enjoying the 2002 film. Needless to say, the book is far superior.

RecChief said...

funny I am currently re-reading the Count of Monte Christo. a great story.

El Pollo Raylan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

What? No Bleak House?

Our current affairs could use a Dickens. Maybe Turow should take on Pigford in serial form.

El Pollo Raylan said...

Pretty much everything most need to know about the law is in Kafka's "Parable of the Doorkeeper."

It's that pithy.

Hyphenated American said...

Constitution of liberty by Hayek is the best book.

Bob Ellison said...

A theory of justice. Not a justice of theory.

Ken Mitchell said...

I'm not sure why your father enjoyed the "Count of Monte Cristo" so much. Good? Yes, certainly. Great? Not so much. Too stilted, too formulaic, too unlikely.

But since it's in the public domain, certainly worth the time.

Depictions of the law? Unless French law is radically different from our own (and of course, it IS), then there's not much to be learned there.

But as a primer on "Revenge, How To", it's probably outstanding.

Craig said...

Doesn't Dumas merit a tag? No doubt a racially motivated injustice. His paternal grandmother was a Haitian slave.

Saint Croix said...

I like a line in one of Turow's books. "Nobody is innocent." I'm totally stealing that.

Saint Croix said...

There's not a single law book that would thrill me as much as a collection of Hugo Black opinions.

I do love reading Akhil Amar.

James Boyd White is great, too, although his chapter on Casey makes me cringe.

I haven't read Scalia's big book yet.

Democracy and Distrust, by John Hart Ely, is quite good, at least the first several chapters. Ely is fun when he takes down other people. Not so much when he proposes his own damn theory.

Tank said...

The Law.

Bastiat.

Lost My Cookies said...

In the movies the Count always learns how to fence like a master in a cave somewhere, in the book he eats hashish.

I like the Monte christo movies better. For action, gimme the Musketeers.

Lost My Cookies said...

In the movies the Count always learns how to fence like a master in a cave somewhere, in the book he eats hashish.

I like the Monte christo movies better. For action, gimme the Musketeers.

Lost My Cookies said...

In the movies the Count always learns how to fence like a master in a cave somewhere, in the book he eats hashish.

I like the Monte christo movies better. For action, gimme the Musketeers.

Lost My Cookies said...

In the movies the Count always learns how to fence like a master in a cave somewhere, in the book he eats hashish.

I like the Monte christo movies better. For action, gimme the Musketeers.

Ceoshea said...

My three daughters read Count of Monte Cristo in middle school, and they all loved it. The youngest finally convinced me to read it after she graduated from high school. It was a wonderful book--exciting, suspenseful, full of action and beautifully written! It's definitely a book I will read again.

Matthew Sablan said...

To Kill a Mockingbird.

Matthew Sablan said...

[I saw that because it shows us both ends of the law, and it helps us realize that the ideal must often clash with the real, and that the law can be a tool used by either.]

rhhardin said...

Lanczos, The Variational Principles of Mechanics

Jasmina Boulanger said...

The Count of Monte Christo, all about justice rather than law.

ddh said...

So, Scott Turow makes two picks that I would expect from a contemporary undergrad who is trying to be deep, man. I have a hard time imagining anybody reading Rawls 50 years from now. Aside from the appeal of "Billy Bud" to the LGBT constituency, is it not an argument for jury nullification, and is that the most important thing to know about the law?

The Hebrew name for the Bible is "Torah," which means "Law." How can anyone understand Western ideas of justice, law, mercy, and the consequences of disobedience without it?

Sophocles' "Antigone" portrays the conflict between divine law and unjust man-made law.

What about the "Federalist Papers"? Are they not an extended discussion on how law can shape a polity?

Robert Traver's "Anatomy of a Murder" is excellent, as several have already noted. I'd add James Gould Couzzens' "The Just and the Unjust," which is also about a murder trial in a small town.

Some Seppo said...

Frank Herbert's "The Dosadai Experiment", in which he created the Courtarena.

A combination of a court of law, and an arena of combat, in which every participant could be called out and executed under legal circumstances.

http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=18

Marc Clark said...

Simple Justice: non fiction narrative of the evolution of the case law leading to Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Ks, et al by Richard Klugar

Jim Bullock said...

I had to look up this "Scott Turow" person, who is apparently Famous and Important(tm) as a name I've bumped into occasionally but not had reason to research further. First to Wikipedia, then I read the linked article. Bleh.

Given his behavior I feel it acceptable to rant my way to naming some brilliant books on the theory of law...


From the linked article, this guy forms an opinion of a book by Patti Smith based on only her former profession, and rants about it publicly at length. He continues to broadcast his lightly-informed opinions after declaring himself *completely wrong* about Ms. Smith's work based on, you know, reading it.

Sorry. He didn't declare himself wrong, merely asserted with certainty and vigor a contradictory opinion. The rest of the interview is the interviewer continues to solicit & the opinionator to deliver opinions without the former once asking "And how do you know this?" or the latter showing any qualification to his pronouncements.

Along the way, he's snotty about both "those people" (the "those people" is silent) delivering literary prizes to "those people" meaning rock stars. Inferior types both, one concludes. Certainly not to be trusted as much as one who, for example, assesses a book and the reason it received a literary prize without accessing either the text or process.

One gets the impression that the scarce recognition of "vaunted" prizes should be left to our betters. But, all is well. Having read the book, this particular better now vigorously proclaims its quality. We should listen to him. It's not like he was completely, loudly wrong just two sentences before.

Which brings me to books on law (and I'll get to Rawls). I was fortunate to take "The Philosophy of Law" one summer with under a dozen students, which allowed the professor - immensely popular, impeccable scholarship, and tenured without administrative ambitions, so perfect - to teach Socratically.

Texts included Mill On Liberty, Hobbes Leviathan, Plato's Republic, the professor's own Freedom, Anarchy and The Law and others. The "final" was to write an additional opinion for The Case of the Speluncian Explorers, a well-known made up teaching case from Harvard in which each included opinion is based on a different theory of law.

I'd suggest any of those as a good entry point to theories of law.

Rawls book is described in reviews and as presenting a *theory of law*, in particular beating up on the utilitarians. To begin with, I'm generally skeptical of arguments which also make the other side's case. Rawls may be the exception. (Note how I'm expressing a likelihood as I have experience with a kind of book, not a conclusion about this one.)

It's interesting that he was asked for "the best book about the law", not theories of law, or theories of justice, but that's where Turow went. (Note that "justice" is one possible basis, or consequence for a theory of law - neither a theory of law by itself, nor the only one.)

Perhaps more telling, Turow recommends "A Theory of Justice" with: "I don’t know of a more lucid articulation of the intuitions many of us share about what is just."

So n top of "justice" is the goal and standard, oconfirming your intuitions is good? Your intuitions should be the law for everyone?

That theory of law makes Mr. Turow a would-be monarch, and Rawls book an apologia.

Robert Cook said...

I read an abridged edition THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO for a class in high school, (yet it was still hefty enough), and didn't relish the prospect, avid reader that I was and am. I just expected it to be a tedious chore.

It was thrilling.

The big popular summer blockbuster of its day, so to speak.